Cadbury's Leinster U21 FC Quarter-Final
By Kevin Egan
Two years ago, a well fancied Kildare team travelled to Gracefield in Offaly to take on a relatively unheralded side from Offaly and came undone under the lights. Last Wednesday night these two counties met again, this time in Athy, and again the Faithful County came away with a fantastic victory against the odds.
However while the 2012 win was a narrow escape in a very closely contested tie, the manner of Wednesday’s victory was infinitely more impressive. Four points may not look like much on the scoreboard, but in general play Offaly were by far the superior team, at least as dominant as Kildare were when the two sides met in the Leinster minor championship at O’Connor Park three years ago.
Right from the start, Offaly attacked this fixture with vim and vigour, harassing their Kildare counterparts and causing a string of turnovers, while simultaneously attacking with style and purpose. After the game, Emmet McDonnell made reference to the fact that in the first half, Offaly had made eight blockdowns to Kildare’s none – a stark indicator of the difference in attitude between the teams.
Offaly’s 0-6 to 0-5 half-time lead was the least they deserved and while any doubts about their ability had been utterly dispelled in the first half, Offaly’s stamina and their ability to sustain such a high intensity game plan was now the key issue for those in attendance.
By the end, the visitors to Geraldine Park in Athy had answered that question in style; they kicked seven of the last nine points and looked as if they could have played at the same tempo all night. This victory ticked every box for the travelling supporters and after recording two away victories in succession, hopes will be high that the team can carry on this momentum against either Louth or Meath on Wednesday week.
The late introduction of Daniel Flynn to the starting line-up of the Kildare team gave the home side something of a boost and while Aaron McDonagh opened the scoring for Offaly, the former Port Adelaide AFL player was among the scorers as Kildare settled into the tie with three points in succession.
Offaly’s tackling and hunger for primary possession were already evident in the early stages of the tie, even if they took some time to find their scoring rhythm, but their potential to produce points of real quality came through when Joe Maher and Peter Cunningham kicked two glorious scores to tie up the game. With momentum on their side Offaly began to open up the Kildare backline and by the 22nd minute, they had built up a three-point lead, 0-6 to 0-3.
An incredibly accurate strike from Paddy Brophy allowed Kildare to reduce that gap to the minimum at half-time and in a game where teams tended to score in bursts, Kildare kept that momentum going after the break. Two more scores from Declan Flaherty and Barry Coffey edged them 0-7 to 0-6 in front and asked real questions of the Offaly team, who were now behind despite having played far more of the football in this tie.
Again Offaly needed their leaders to step up and again those key men delivered in style as Eoin Carroll picked up a succession of possessions around the middle, while Peter Cunningham and Joe
Maher delivered the points to push Offaly back in front. Kildare nicked a score on the quarter hour mark to make it 0-9 to 0-8, but from then on Offaly owned the tie and while there were a few nervous moments in the closing stages and some inaccurate shooting from Kildare helped to keep Offaly’s spirits high, the Lilywhites never came close to getting the goal that they badly needed to reduce the deficit.
Substitute Chris Healy picked off a late point to reduce the gap but by then Offaly were happy to concede that score as, within a minute, Damien Maher sounded the long whistle and ushered them into the Leinster semi-finals, where a renewal of hostilities with either Louth or Meath – two other counties with which Offaly locked horns in 2012.
Offaly: Conor Clancy; Seán Moriarty, Joseph O’Connor, Darragh Corbett; Keith Mullally, Philip Foy, Conor McNamee; Declan Byrne, Eoin Carroll; Jason Gethings, Peter Cunningham (0-3), Aaron McDonagh (0-3); J Maher (0-6, 2f), L Kelly, S Doyle (0-1). Subs: Adam Shelley for Byrne (29), Rúairí McNamee for Kelly (37), Nigel Bracken for Cunningham (55, B/C), John Kavanagh for Maher (60).
Kildare: Shane McNamara; Barry Egan, Seán Higgins, Shane O’Hagan; Dylan Corcoran, David Hyland, Cian O’Donoghue; Gavin Farrell, Fergal Conway (0-1); Barry Coffey (0-3, 3f), Tony Gibbons, Paddy Brophy (0-1); David Hughes (0-1), Daniel Grehan, Daniel Flynn (0-1). Subs: Declan Flaherty (0-2) for Grehan (HT); Paschal Connell for Farrell (44); Ryan Houlihan for Corcoran (53), Chris Healy for Hughes (55).
Referee: Damien Maher (Westmeath).
Man of the match
On a night when Offaly’s energy and enthusiasm all over the field was palpable, it seems wrong to single out any one player – yet the manner in which Eoin Carroll dominated the midfield sector simply couldn’t be ignored. The Cappincur player lorded the skies against much bigger opponents, while his support play and the power behind his tackling caused Kildare huge problems.
At 0-3 to 0-1 down, the match was progressing roughly along the lines that most neutral pundits would have expected. However a seemingly innocuous ball into the right corner-forward position found its way to Joe Maher and despite the attention of two Kildare defenders, the Ferbane player used his power to create a yard of space and promptly strike the ball over the bar from a really tight angle. Peter Cunningham followed this up with a soaring strike on the run and immediately the pendulum was shifted back in Offaly’s favour.